Regression to the Mean in Orlando

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The only thing outnumbering the number of missed foul calls in the Raptor’s frantic last gasp attempt in the final 20 seconds of the 92-87 loss was the number of missed opportunities. It was a painful example of how not to execute. Dwane Casey failed to draw up an effective play, DeRozan failed to finish and lost the ball, the Raptors missed yet another long jumper, Kyle Lowry passed up a decent look and then Valanciunas was left to suddenly improvise with the game on the line using an isolation in the post with 10 seconds left on the clock.

With body language that screamed panic, Jonas forced his move. He needed to spin baseline but opted for the middle where he was being lead instead, losing about 6 feet of distance and launching himself awkwardly against his defender’s shove. The shot wasn’t particularly close, and really, the final score ended up looking a little closer than it felt for much of the game. The Raptors got beat by a plucky Orlando team that hustles their asses off on defense and throws athleticism at you from all over the floor.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carrol have taken over half of the team’s shots this year. That’s not necessarily surprising, and as Dwayne Casey said before Friday night’s game, “this isn’t a democracy.” The team wants its best players taking its shots. And that’s all well and good enough, but on nights where shots aren’t falling (the Raps went 30-for-86 from the floor, yuck) for Toronto’s top 3 or the opposing defense has found a way to affect them with the apparent defensive force of Dewayne Dedmon, the ball needs to become more democratic.

The Raptors had 12 assists on the entire night, less than half of the 28 assists that Golden State put up in their record-breaking first half alone last night. It’s extreme to compare the Raptors effort to a historically great offense, but it shows how far off the team’s offense can still be from the NBA’s true elite when shots aren’t falling. The Raptors have looked much better coached this season, but last night looked at times like the downward trend of last season’s demise, where the team looked to be without creativity or adaptation when their go-to options were either cold or taken away by the defense. The offense has looked at its best this year when the ball has moved around in search of the open man instead of getting gummed up in the hands of the team’s lead ball-handlers.

Orlando’s rim protection seemed to disrupt and later ward off some of Toronto’s drives. Maybe that’s what was on Lowry’s mind in passing up a potential shot with 10 seconds left to keep the Dinos in the game. The Raptors also simply missed a lot of shots, some of them bad or forced up, but some of them good looks too. Off nights happen, good defenses can shake you and regression to the mean is happening. Perhaps the Raptors were just bound to have an off night eventually on this extended road trip.

Looking at the box score alone, many of the indicators point towards Toronto having played the better game until you notice shooting percentage (and, you know, the final score). But Toronto was outplayed. Don’t get bogged down on the missed chance at the end and think that the Raptors let one slip away that they should have had. While that is technically the case, you get a much more accurate story watching the highlights of Oladipo driving against a Toronto defense that looked flat-footed in its rotations, creating a wide open look from three for Evan ‘never google’ Fournier off of a bad Toronto miss than you do from Valanciunas’ ugly missed hookshot. Credit the Raptors for fighting back and having a chance in a game where they were clearly off their game and outplayed, but credit the Magic for winning this game and beating the Raptors too. I guess 82-0 just isn’t happening this year.

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